It's not just the Government that has lost sight of homeless people. We have too

Nearly 85,000 children in Britain will wake up without a home this Christmas morning

Related Topics

You’re out on your lunch break, hurrying along the street to get a sandwich. In your peripheral vision looms a man sitting huddled, begging and dirty on the pavement. What do you do? Do you avert your eyes, dip in for some change or greet them with a polite apology?

I am usually one of the glazed pedestrians who shuffle past and mentally block out the few seconds it takes to pass him or her, and I know deep down that I’m probably employing a wilful suspension of empathy.

When I walk past a homeless person, I – and many others, I imagine – block them out, or force myself to think that being homeless surely isn’t as sh*t as it looks, that they know how to cope with it better than I, that they are from a different walk of life, that they somehow deserve it, that they brought it on themselves? And besides, if I stopped for every homeless person I saw, I'd be forever stopping. And that allows me to walk past, once again, when really a fiver or a cup of tea won’t make a big difference to my day, but might do to theirs.

But I’m not sure how long I can continue to ignore the obvious. Homelessness levels in this country have reached shocking new highs, and are being exacerbated further by local government cuts. The number of homeless people in Worcester has risen by 60 per cent in four years, but housing-related support has been cut by almost half. Torquay council has warned that dozens of homeless people will die on the streets if their supported housing budget is slashed. Hertsmere borough council revealed that in the past year alone homelessness in the borough increased by 51 per cent. From Mansfield to Exeter, Northampton to Crewe, Kent to Glasgow, hopeless homeless stories abound.

And those we recognise as “homeless” – the people literally sleeping rough in the streets – are only the tip of the iceberg. According to the latest government figures on homelessness, released today, 2,100 families without a home in England were living in emergency bed and breakfast accommodation, the highest number for a decade. In addition to this, total number of families living in all forms of temporary accommodation in England at the end of September rose by five per cent on the same time last year. These new statistics mean that nearly 85,000 children in Britain face the reality of waking up homeless this Christmas morning.

No matter how terrible the thought of being homeless is, the fact is that it’s very much possible to slip down a rung in the ladder and possibly fall off the bottom. Last year, Panorama’s Britain’s Hidden Housing Crisis showed how quickly the loss of a job or an illness could lead to a house repossession and as Wall Street banker turned rough sleeper Kevin Browne said: “Nobody ever really thinks anything good that happens to them in life is going to end.”

Although in today’s Autumn Statement George Osborne promised £1bn in loans for large housing developments and a raising of council borrowing caps for new homes, he also announced a new cap on total welfare spending and warned that the "vast majority" of housing benefit will be included.

The current welfare cuts and the soaring cost of housing means councils are finding it difficult to find suitable temporary accommodation for those who need it, a situation which has resulted in the current deluge of families in B&Bs or hostels and the hundreds more homeless people on the streets. Just as I need to face up to the fact that homeless people are individual human beings, the Coalition should get to grips with the fact that far more must be done to help those struggling to find affordable housing, those who are homeless and those in real danger of becoming so.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Digital Project Manager/BA

£300 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: An experienced Digital/Ecommerc...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

SEN Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply special educational ne...

Regional ESF Contract Manager

£32500 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Birmingham: European Social Fund...

Day In a Page

Read Next

August catch-up: Waiting on the telephone, tribute to Norm and my Desert Island Discs

John Rentoul
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home